“The book is dead!”
How many times have we heard that one before? Or what about, “The book store is dead”? Given the death of Borders, some would say yes. To both I vehemently disagree.
What we are witness to is not a death, but a birth or rebirth of creativity through technology.
Let’s look to the past and see how long we’ve been following this path without even knowing it.
At the very beginning there was no set form of written language. Pictograms were used to express ideas. When someone wanted to express themselves to a large audience, they would post these pictograms in a high visibility section of the village or town.
When the written word was established, it was kept in seclusion to royalty, high priests, and wealthy marketers. They worked, wrote, and read in their groups to help out their common good. They hired artisans to carve out more refined versions of the pictograms on the sides of buildings to announce their viewpoint to the people.
Soon after there were rabbis, clerics and priests working day and night in creating Bibles, Torahs, and Qur’ans for the various churches. These were usually chained up and locked away from general viewing.
Then the big break came with the printing press. With this invention it was now cheap and easy to mass produce the written word. Soon after, the jobs of pictogram artists and hand-scribes were no longer necessary. Many artisans soon found themselves without work.
The next change was a subtle, but strong one. Costs of paper and mass production dropped. With this came the ability to offer books, papers, and magazines in a myriad of subjects and sizes. This is the world that most grew up with and has left an indelible print on both our psyche’ and our economic structure. This era gave us the dime novels, daily newspapers, magazines, coffee table books, small book store chains, large book store chains, used book stores, agents, editors, marketers… the list goes on and on. (Typewriters and computers have also sped the change by giving the writer the ability to churn out more works at a quicker pace.)
And now we’ve entered an era as large and dramatic as the last two combined. The internet and the e-reader have changed the writing landscape like never before. Writers everywhere now have not only the ability to write whatever they desire, but they now have the ability to put these works in multiple formats at the same time with little or no cost.
They also have the benefit of reaching out to their targeted audience worldwide through various social networks, forums, search engines, ad links, and word tags.
A case in point: Stephen King wrote that his first novel, “Carrie” sold 500 copies when he came onto the established writing scene, and that the sales were that high only because of a large commercial “blitz” by the local radio channels.
Today we can advertise ourselves through Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, Stumble Upon, and reach prospective buyers in numbers unimaginable just two years ago.
We have the choice of going the tradition route of finding an agent and running the gauntlet of publishers in the search to find the one that fits our writing style. Or we can set it up as a PDF or e-reader file, publish it ourselves in print form if we choose, and sell it online through Amazon or through small stand-alone book stores or both. The choice is ours.
Writers will not wither in this new era, but will thrive and multiply like never before!
But what about books and book stores? Will they survive the onslaught of technology and the change of people’s perspective on books and stores in general? Yes, but not in the way they are now. There will always be a market for bound books. Especially for the classics. The market will just get smaller. What I predict you will see is not just a shift to e-reader style books, but a change in e-reading devices themselves. Imagine a sheet of plastic about the size of a sheet of printer paper or maybe half that size. You touch one corner and it self illuminates to show you the print and photos you choose. Now imagine that this preprogramed e-reader costs roughly $10.00 and is recyclable. Science fiction? They have already shown the prototype at the 2012 Consumer Electron Show. This along with the download files will be the new standard in reading material. Something you can enjoy and take with you to the bathroom without fear of a costly mistake.
Not only is this wonderful for the new frontiersman writers, but this is a fantastic tool for the established print media.
If you run a magazine like, Car and Driver, Wooden Boat, Handyman, Discovery, Time, and anything else; you will have the capability of putting all the forms of media into one inexpensive and highly portable object.
Let’s use Car and Driver as an example. When you buy their magazine today, you get a printed story in two columns with a smattering of pictures. Now imagine this same magazine on one sheet of polymer/jell film that not only has the story in columns, but has an embedded MP-3 file for each article that plays just like a podcast. The pictures are no longer pictures, but still of short videos showing you the dynamics of the testing procedure of the product; interviews of an engineer, CEO, or designer; or snippets of the exotic location they are at this month.
This same pattern could be used on any magazine or newspaper in print today.
This same pattern could be used by any blogger out in cyberspace.
And what of the book stores themselves? How will they fare? They will survive, but they will be smaller. There will be no reason for the big box style stores when the media product itself will be so small and compact. Printed books will almost be a special order except for a point of display section set up for romantic nostalgia. The book store will become more of a social place. A non-alcoholic bar were people get together for book clubs, social or political exchange, role-play gaming, and general communicating. People are social creatures and we desire comfortable places to gather. This will never change.
So wither the writer? Nay. The writer thrives!